Book Review: Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson

Ever so often, there comes a book that forces you to think deeply about something that you may have taken for granted, something that you’ve grown accustomed to and maybe thus come to assume.

Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus by Jared C. Wilson is one of those books.

It prods you to take a deeper look at the gospel of Jesus Christ; to stare and be mesmerized by the numerous, wonderful aspects of the good news that is the atonement of our Lord and Savior. If you thought that the gospel was shallow, this book will make you think otherwise–the gospel is very, very deep and you have only skimmed the surface.

For example, in Chapter 1, Wilson goes through how the gospel reconciles us on multiple levels–a very helpful reminder for all of us who have not thought deeply about reconciliation. In the next chapter (Ch.2), Wilson uncovers three different “views” the gospel gives believers: a secure self, a redemptive view of place, and an epic view of God. A nice, surprising chapter is Ch.3 where Wilson reveals what it means to be “at play in the fields of the Lord” and really encourages readers to rejoice in the gospel and the true joy it brings.

I could go on about the other chapters of the book, but suffice to say, this is an important read for even the maturest of Christians. Its strength lies in its overall ability to force the reader to slow down and consider slowly, in detail, the vast and grand accomplishment of God in Christ. Some parts may seem like a refresher course for the well-versed disciple, but Wilson writes in a way that is thought provoking and unlike any authors in our day. I trust you’ll be quite encouraged after reading Gospel Deeps as much as I was.

Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway, 2012), available in paperback & Kindle ebook.

Book Review: The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

In the new book, The Hole in Our Holiness (Crossway), Kevin DeYoung seeks out to promote and recover the necessity of a robust and strong pursuit of holiness, especially for those readers who are in the co-called “gospel-centered” camp.

After reading this short book, I was greatly encouraged that I could–and should–have a zealous pursuit of Christ-likeness and godward holiness. DeYoung reminds us that we ought not to shy away from using great efforts to be more holy; rather it is because we have been saved by God, declared made righteous by the blood of Christ that we can and should pursue holiness.

Chapter Two, “The Reason for Redemption,” is a very good and timely reminder of the purpose for which God saved us. Namely, God saved us by grace, so that we might be holy. Echoing Packer’s words, DeYoung contends that we were justified so that we might be sanctified.

Chapter Three is a highlight of this book: “Piety’s Pattern.” Here, DeYoung gives us some very practical examples of what holiness is and what it is not. The contents here are worth the price of the book, as it is a very helpful gauge that we can use to see how our growth of holiness is:

Holiness is not mere rule keeping.

Holiness is not generational imitation.

Holiness is not generic spirituality.

Holiness is not “finding your true self”.

Holiness is not the way of the world.

 

Holiness looks like the renewal of GOd’s image in us.

Holiness looks like a life marked by virtue instead of vice.

Holiness looks like a clean conscience.

Holiness looks like obedience to God’s commands.

Holiness looks like Christlikeness.

To be sure, Chapter Four “The Impetus for the Imperatives” is also an amazing chapter where DeYoung provides us with numerous Scriptural references of the different biblical reasons why we should obey the Lord. Chapter Six is titled “Spirit-powered, Gospel-driven, Faith-fueled Effort” and there you’ll find the heart of DeYoung’s argument; his reasoning is sound and balanced for a generation that may sometimes find itself too passive while living in the school of “grace”.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to young Christians everywhere, especially our current generation of youth who have a zealous love for God, as well as the “older” more mature Christians in our churches. Sometimes, through the thick and thin of our daily routines, we neglect this important necessity of following hard after Christ. Let us pick up this book and read, and meditate on it, lest we have a bigger hole in our holiness.

Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness (Crossway, 2012), available in hardcover & Kindle ebook.

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and Justification, ed. Josh Moody

Jonathan Edwards and Justification” (Crossway, 2012) is a short but substantial book on the theology of Jonathan Edwards. Edited by Josh Moody, it is a compilation of 5 chapter-length articles by theologians familiar with Edwards.

Reader beware, this is not a book for the faint at heart. It is theologically substantial and heavy, especially given that Edwards’s own words and language is quoted and hard to grasp at first reading. Most certainly, this is a book for the pastor-theologian or seminarian who desires a quick and succinct examination of Edwards’s position on justification.

In particular, it exmines Edwards’s view on justification. To be sure, Moody and company aim to uncover how Reformed is Jonathan Edwards’s beliefs about about our position in Christ. This is especially an important book for our time, when this issue of justification by faith alone is undermined by the ever-increasing friendship of Roman Catholics and evangelicals. And our theological-ecclesial climate is further exasperated by the recent work of E.P. Sanders and the New Perspective on Paul. Henceforth, this book finds itself in the unique position of offering a well-reasoned defence of Edwards’s Reformed position on justification by faith alone.

I found Moody’s opening chapter most helpful and a quick primer for myself, as one who has dabbed little into the works of Edwards. I appreciated Moody’s examination of Edwards’s “order of salvation” and the relationship between justification and sanctification. I now know I need to spend more time reading Edwards, and this book is a good little catalyst for any student of theology–especially in the vein of Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards and Justification, edited by Josh Moody. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 160 pp. (Available in Paperback or Kindle

Book Review: Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard

Justin Buzzard, a pastor in Silicon Valley, has written a highly accessible book on the Christian husband’s responsiblity in marriage.

Date Your Wife (Crossway, 2012) is written for the regular Joe Christian who probably does not read much books. At just over 130 pages, this book on biblical manhood is an easy read. It is written for men, married men, so women need simply be aware of this. Christian men everywhere, young and old, ought to get a copy of this for their “bros”.

One of the most helpful things about Date Your Wife is the emphasis on the man’s responsibility before God to care and cultivate his relationship with his wife. Considering the prevalent cultural problem of men neglecting to take responsiblity for their despicable marriage, Buzzard contends that at the core what’s wrong with the marriage is the man; “me” (ch.3). Grounding the marriage responsiblity on the man is taken straight from Genesis (ch.4).

Yet the foundation of Buzzard’s book is not of “self-help” or do-this-and-you’ll-fix-your-marriage; such is legalism and works righteousness. Buzzard is quick to proclaim that Christ and the gospel ought to be the solution and driving force of a healthy marriage (ch.7). Men everywhere ought to man up and pay attention to Buzzard.

I heartily recommend Date Your Wife to any brothers reading this. You’ll be glad to you read it; and it’s so short and simple yet important, that it’ll take time to really sink in. And when this message of biblical manhood sinks in, we shall be more quickly prone to date our wife.

Juzin Buzzard, Date Your Wife, available in paperback & Kindle ebook.

Book Review: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible

Reading the Bible well can be a daunting task for many Christians, seasoned or young. That is why it is important to get the foundations of how the whole Bible fits together, how to read the different genres or kinds of Scripture, and how Jesus relates to it all.

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well is a short, helpful new book published recently by Crossway that aims to help in this task.

To be sure, this book is a compilation of articles that would help readers in reading and interpreting the Bible. The individual chapter authors are renown biblical scholars.

Thankfully, the editors (Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas R. Schreiner) have compiled one very cohesive and concise book to address all the basic kinds of hermeneutical issues. Part 1 of the book is on the Old Testament, part 2 is on the Background to the New Testament, and part 3 is on the New Testament itself.

Helpful Time Lines

I found the last section of the book, Part 4, very helpful. These last few pages of the book contain Time Lines, and it gave me a really insightful look at the chronological history of the forefathers of the Jewish faith, the United Monarchy of the kings of Israel, the Divided Monarchy and exilic times, and the generations returning from exile.

Furthermore, the intertestamental events time line is a great resource for those Bible readers who did not know of the various historical and cultural events that predated the Bible, circumstances that affected the context of the New Testament. Consequently, the included New Testament Time Line is certainly an important chart to learn and be familiar with. When we understand the time of Jesus better, the more we can appreciate the significance of his atoning sacrifice for us and for our salvation.

Biblical Backgrounds

Similarly, Part 2: Background to the New Testament is the most meaty and dense section of this book, and yet a section the seasoned Christian should consider studying carefully. The time between the testaments and the so-called “four hundred years of silence” is an era of Christian history that needs to be studied.

While in seminary at SBTS, I recall that this content was lectured and discussed in the first week weeks of my introductory New Testament class. I remember being very confused as to who the Sadducees were, and what the Esssenes were all about. Such historical facts were completely foreign to me, cultural artifacts that were never mentioned in my Christian life in the church. This is why every Christian will be aided in their understanding of Biblical history. When we develop greater perspective that the Holy Scriptures of our Christian faith came out of true, historical time periods and cultures, we get a better understanding of how amazing Jesus is. We will in turn discover why God’s redemptive plan for all mankind is so amazing: Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole Scripture.

Highly Recommended

I heartily recommend this small book to every Christian, young and old. If you are reading the Bible for the first time, or if you are reading through the Bible for the 40th time, you’ll be sure to find that this book is an excellent assistant to your biblical interpretation.

 

Buy this book in Paperback or Kindle ebook!

Book Review: Word versus Deed, by Duane Liftin

Word versus Deed

Duane Liftin is president emeritus of Wheaton College where he served for seventeen years. In his new book, Dr. Liftin aims to strike the fine balance between words and deeds in the evangelical church. “Word versus Deed” (Crossway, 2012) is a timely book, written for a time of great controversy in today’s church because of over-emphasis of deeds ministries in certain streams of evangelicalism, at the expense of proclaiming the gospel with words.

his is a most important book of great significance, for Liftin strives to address the misunderstandings of this linchpin theological controversy of our age. He does so by examining first the communication theory behind the issues of not using words to seemingly convey the gospel, and then carefully analyzing some key biblical passages used in defense of deeds ministries.

Strengths

History

I was pleasantly surprised by how enlightening his section on the historical development of “word versus deed” (pgs 28–21). In a very concise manner, Liftin explains for even lay Christians how the last two centuries of American Church history has affected our balance of word ministry and deeds ministry. This is most helpful for those of us who need a firmer grasp of our place in church history.

Mercy ministries like Food Kitchens and Sandwich Runs did not come out of a vacuum. We must trace our church’s mission historically in order to see how far we have fallen in theological liberalism; we check back to see how the misguided over-emphasis of funadamentalists affect our grasp of the biblical fundamentals. What we do in our churches today can certainly be tempted by the ministry faux-pas of our forbears. Liftin graciously reminds us of our place at the table of words versus deeds, a place of grace responsibility.

Dividing the Word

I was also greatly helped by Ch.12 “Rightly Dividing the Word”. Liftin addresses the excessive priority that some give to the gospels over the epistles, and calls us to see the rightful balance that the gospels and epistles have in complementing each other. Further, Liftin confronts the Old Testament versus New Testament over-emphasis and demands that believers heed the biblical call of heightened obligation to brothers and sisters in Christ. If ever there is a “deeds ministry” that is biblically necessary, it is the acts of care and service to our fellow disciples.

Key Passages

Space does not allow for me to review every single one of Liftin’s helpful criticisms of various misuses of Scripture for the sake of deeds ministry (Ch.13) . Here’s a few highlights though.

  • For Jeremiah 29:4–7, Liftin argues that “the motive for God’s instruction to seek ‘the welfare of the city’ had little to do with improving things for Babylonians. The point of God’s word through Jeremiah was to instruct the exiles in how to make the best of their disciplinary experience”; thus the “focus of this passage is not the flourishing of Babylon but the well-being of God’s people” (170–171).
  • For Luke 4:16–21, Liftin asserts that the point of the passage is that the “poor” to whom the gospel is such good news in this passage “were not merely any who are materially lacking; they were members of the people of God who, because of their poverty, were especially open and responsive to God” (177). The passage speaks not of physical liberation, but of spiritual freedom. The promise of sight given to the blind is a profoundly spiritual promise in the passage’s context.
  • For Matthew 25:31–36, Liftin contends that the proper understanding of Jesus’s speaking about the least of these my brothers is not inclusive of just anyone who may be suffering. On the contrary, Jesus himself is “embodied in his followers (Col. 2:19), his brothers, his disciples, his little ones who believe, even ‘the least of them’ ” (192).

Conclusion

Our churches should be grateful for such a book by Duane Liftin that encourages us to strike a biblical balance between lovingly serving the needs of our Christian brethren, mercifully assisting those unbelieving sufferers as the Lord so calls us, and the gracious gospel proclaiming with words. Surely we ought to use the Nehemiah Principle in our practical ministry triage: while we cannot do everything, we certainly can do something. What are the needs around us? What are the most important needs? And what are the most urgent needs? Henceforth, the pinnacle concluding question: What is God calling you to do?

Liftin is careful to remind us of this simple axiom: A need is not a call. “The needs of the world, whether for our words or our deeds, will far outstrip our ability to meet them. It is therefore impossible for us to meet every need; only God can bear such a burden” (204).  We must continually strive to discern and serve God’s call on us for ministry–that we would not be falsely guilted into handing cash to a pan-handler or donating our moneys and time at every commercial of a starving child. There is a right way to serving those needs: by way of a personal calling from God to do so.

“Learning to respond to the call rather than need is not a technique for escaping costly service; it’s a plan for avoiding false guilt.”

*Buy Word Versus Deed on Paperback or Kindle.

Book Review: Warfield on the Christian Life by Fred G. Zaspel

Warfield on the Christian Life Fred Zaspel. Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 240 pp. (Available in Paperback or Kindle

For those unfamiliar with Warfield

Fred Zaspel has written a very readable introduction to the theology of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921). Especially for those who are unfamiliar with the significance of B.B. Warfield’s contribution to today’s church, Warfield on the Christian Life goes a long way in a concise form.

Warfield is known to be one of America’s greatest theologians, probably second to Jonathan Edwards in influence. As one of the “Old Princeton” theologians and a devout Presbyterian, Warfield is noted for his dogmatic defense of the doctrine of inspiration–having taught theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921.

Even for myself, having been seminary-trained in the Southern Baptist tradition, Zaspel’s presentation of Warfield’s theological writings was presented in well-written prose. At times, for those sections that are not explicit quotations, I was uncertain if what was written was Zaspel’s personal theological convictions, or if they were Warfield’s. Nevertheless, Zaspel’s condensation of Warfield’s theology on the different topics about the Christian life was especially digestible and enlightening.

Strengths

The Holy Spirit

I found Zaspel’s section on Warfield’s theology of the Holy Spirit especially helpful (chapter 7). In our day and age where this person of the Trinity has been described as the “forgotten God,” Warfield’s proclamation of the Holy Spirit is most needed. From Warfield, we are taught that we can be conservative theologically, contenders for the inerrant Scriptures and still have a strong dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Zaspel helpful writes of Warfield’s Spirit beliefs in terms of (1) the conviction of the Holy Spirit, (2) the sealing of the Spirit, (3) the Spirit’s testimony in our sonship, (4) the love of the Spirit, (5) the leading of the Spirit, (6) spiritual strengthening, and (7) the Spirit’s help in our praying. I don’t know if you could say that Warfield was “charismatic” in this theology, but you could certainly call him a super-natural cessationist, because it is evident that he has a high regard for the Holy Spirit.

Yet his emphasis on a correct understanding to the Spirit is not at the expense of his doctrine of inspiration: Zaspel grounds every point he makes about Warfield’s beliefs on the Spirit in Scripture. Even by way of example, Warfield shows us that the Spirit-filled Spirit-gifted Christian is a person wholly devoted to God’s Word.

Contra “Higher Life” Teachings

While we may find the recent “gospel-centered” movement to be a new development, Warfield had written and taught much from this perspective even a century ago. We can see this in Chapter 8 where Zaspel shows Warfield’s emphasis of the Christian life as an outworking of the gospel, holiness as an entailment of salvation. Because we have been united with Christ, Warfield aptly contends that it should be an experiential truth–that if we died with Christ, we also rose again with him. Such a resurrection has significant implications for our sanctification.

And so it is most appropriate that Warfield is adamant in writing against the heretical dogmas of the “higher life” teachers (cf. Keswick theology, “victorious life” teachers). My own church upbringing in the Christian and Missionary Alliance was wrought if this very Higher Life teachings–“Let go and let God!” theology–in a very hidden way. How often have we been taught that in our Christian life, all we need to do is “do your best, and God will do the rest!” ? I still know some who teach and proclaim such a thing–that it is possible to not sin on this side of eternity, if only we would surrender all of our life to God!

How could Christians be so skewed in their understanding of Christian life? Warfield would not be fazed by such aberrant teachings: he contended for a robust doctrine of sanctification that is not passive but aggressive, it is initial, progressive and yet also a final sanctification. To Warfield, Christians who’ve reached the “higher life” may be gaining victory of sinning, but they are certainly not gaining victory over sin–the old nature. When a Christian is made righteous, he is no longer under sin’s dominion. Period. There cannot be a Christian with a carnal nature! Zaspel thus writes succinctly,

Against all this Warfield expounds the doctrine of sanctification in terms of every believer’s progressive struggle against sin, a struggle marked, on the one hand, by a radical freedom from sin experienced in conversion and, on the other, by a final perfection in glory. For Warfield sanctification is a progressive experience growing out of an initial transformation of heart and life in regeneration by the Holy Spirit and culminating in the glory of the eschaton, when we will reach our goal, having been made like Christ. […] the believer’s sinfulness is more than matched by the grace of God in Christ and by the creative work of the Holy Spirit (104)

Intimate view into Warfield’s Heart

These are just a couple strengths I found to be personally notable in this short book on B.B. Warfield’s beliefs about the Christian life. As the first book I have read about Warfield and his theology, I was very much helped in gaining a more gospel-centered perspective on my own spiritual pilgrimage.

Zaspel’s summaries gave me an intimate view into Warfield’s heart for his seminary students and for his church, and the larger body of Christ. His love for God and His Word was especially evident, pulsating through every knick and cranny of his life and ministry. One significant part of Warfield’s ministry was his wife, Annie Kinkead. She was apparently at about 17 years into their marriage when she fell sickly ill and became an invalid for the rest of her life and marriage. In this, we find evidence of Warfield’s personal life having been greatly impacted by the gospel of Christ. He is wonderful example of a husband-theologian, and rightfully so:

by all accounts Warfield was a devoted husband in a very happy marriage. The Warfields had no children, and for many years he left his home only for the classroom. He was otherwise home nearly always in the company of his wife. And in the providence of God, without doubt, this contributed to his time in writing so extensively on so many subjects. It was reported by those who knew him that “he has had only two interests in his life–his work, and Mrs. Warfield.” (28-29)

Now that…is a gospel-centered man. I look forward to meeting him in the age to come.


Fred Zaspel. Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 240 pp. (Available in Paperback or Kindle)
Part of the new Crossway series of books, “Theologians on the Christian Life”.